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Why Everyone Is Talking about Platform Building and Why You Probably Should Be Too

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After I started getting into digital marketing a couple of years ago, I kept hearing the word “platform” being thrown around a lot. It was used like this:

Businesses need to build a platform to get their message out.

Writers should build a platform if they want to get noticed by publishers.

A large enough platform helps bloggers land book deals.

The number of ways it was used went on and on, but quite frankly, it annoyed me. I was sick of hearing people talking about platform this and platform that.

As a marketer, I cared more about sales and conversions. I cared about how many visitors turned into customers, not how many turned into Twitter followers.

I felt  like Allen Iverson in his famous rant about practice (in case you’ve never seen it, a video is embedded at the end of this post). My rant would have gone something like this:

Platform? Why are we talking about platform? I don’t want to talk about platform, I want to talk about sales. Let’s talk about conversions and revenue. Why is everyone talking about platform? Come on man, are we still talking about platform?

I’m sure you get the idea. I didn’t understand why people were talking about platform so much, and it didn’t fit into my traditional marketing background. So what changed?

The “Aha!” moment

The “aha!” moment occurred as I was working on a project to promote a video. The main way to do this was through an e-mail list and Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts for the organization. The success of the video depended largely on the 32,000 or so people on these lists.

As we started promoting the video, I realized that we would only reach so many people with our lists. 32,000 seems like a lot, but when you consider that not everyone on Facebook and Twitter sees every announcement, you don’t reach as many people as you might think.

You also realize that if the lists were bigger by the time the video was promoted, then more people could be reached, and the video would receive more views. But this is determined by the size of the platform that has been developed before promoting, not after. If we wanted to promote beyond these lists, we would have to pay to get access to other people’s audiences, a.k.a. spend money on advertising.

At this point, I started realizing why having a platform matters so much. A platform is like a built-in, non-sleezy promotion channel that you own. It’s a group of people who are interested in hearing what you have to say and are willing to even promote your ideas and messages for you.

So how does this relate to an overall digital marketing strategy?

How Platform Building Fits into a Digital Marketing Strategy

For many businesses, building a platform constitutes a large percentage of digital marketing activity. Have you ever wondered what the point of being on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ is? Have you ever wondered why your writing a blog and accumulating e-mail subscribers?

A big part of the reason is that you’re building a platform that you can communicate future ideas with. Once you have these ideas, you want to have the largest platform possible to communicate these ideas to.

Let’s take writer Jeff Goins as an example. He’s been blogging and writing for several years now. Over that time, he built up a platform of 10,000+ subscribers who are interested in what he has to say. They read and share his posts and support all of the other things that he does.

Several months ago, a publisher approached him about writing a book. Why? Because he had a built in group of people who paid attention to his ideas. In a way, they were interested in the built-in marketing that his platform provided.

So now that Jeff’s book Wrecked is out, he’s gone from a blogger to a writer to an author in a matter of months. All because of the platform that he spent time to build.

How much time should you spend on platform building?

So I’m not sure exactly how much time should be spent on platform building, but one equation looks like this: 99% of time is spent on building the platform and 1% is spent on promoting important ideas and products.

Is this crazy? Should individuals and businesses really spend 99% of their time platform building and 1% of their time promoting important products? Yes and no.

Yes because some businesses should spend this much time building their platform. 99% of their time is used taking care of their audience of interested people and giving them content they want for free. Then, once that big idea or product comes along, companies dip into the 1% to promote their product or idea. But most of the time is spent on platform building.

The answer could also be no because for some businesses the equation should be 90/10 or 80/20. It depends on the business, and every organization has to figure out what the right ratio is for them.

But what I do know is that platform building explains to me why social media marketing is not a waste of time. If you’re not building a platform, then I’m not sure what the point of increasing followers is. But if you are building a platform, then it gives meaning to that 99% of time “wasted” or “invested” into social media. As far as I can tell, it’s the whole reason to be on social media and to care about how many people are keeping up with you.

What are your thoughts? Is platform building important for individuals and businesses who want to get the word out about their products and services, or do you think it’s overrated? And what’s your take on the top reasons to be on social media? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.

p.s. Here’s the previously mentioned Iversion video as promised. Enjoy!

Photo credit: dobrych

  • http://www.michaelgholmes.com Michael Holmes

    Seth Godin said, “Content marketing is the only marketing left.” SO I would say that platform building is the only way left to be successful. Without a platform there is no success of a product.

    And that dude Iverson was a cocky one! :)

    • Joseph Putnam

      Hi Michael, I have to disagree with Mr. Godin. Content marketing may be one of the most effective current forms of marketing, but it’s not the only marketing left. There are many other ways to get the word out about a product or service. So content marketing and platform building is valuable, but it’s not the only way to increase awareness about a product.

      And yes, Iverson was cocky. That interview is one of my favorite sports clips of all time. :)

  • http://www.ecommercefuel.com Andrew Youderian

    Great Post, Joseph! Being able to build a platform – whether that’s via a blog or established eCommerce site with a solid reputation – is increasingly important. Just chat with the thousands of people who saw their rankings killed in April when the Google Penguin update hit. If you’re solely dependent on external traffic sources, you’re in a very vulnerable position.

    Not only is it profitable, but it’s pretty empowering and exciting to have a platform of people who are interested and willing to respond to you. You can get feedback instantly on new products or ideas, find potential rock-star hires in your audience, and any number of things it’d be possible to do without an audience.

    Again, great article!

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  • http://www.sandrawriteshere.com Sandra

    I don’t think you have a choice – you either start building your platform or you’re toast. How else will you find your audience? There are too many other options and distractions competing for our time and eyeballs.

  • http://www.academyofinternetmarketing.com Stephanie

    “99% of time is spent on building the platform and 1% is spent on promoting important ideas and products.” There is so much truth in this statement. I feel that content marketing these days is just as important as SEO.

  • http://5northmarketing.com Joseph

    Yes, that’s so true. And content marketing ends up being SEO when you write SEO-targeted posts that people want to read. Content is a vital component when it comes to SEO.

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